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    MOSCOW, February 23, 2004. (RIA Novosti) -- On Monday morning Vladimir Putin personally congratulated Alexiy II, Patriarch of Moscow and all-Russia with his 75th anniversary.

    President had a meeting with Patriarch in the residence of Alexiy II.

    Putin kissed the Patriarch three times and presented him a big bunch of white flowers. After that the President excused himself to the Patriarch for "breach of protocol and deviation from the established procedure" and personally read his decree to award the Patriarch of Moscow and all-Russia with the order "For services to Fatherland " first Class.

    Putin stated that the award was presented to Alexiy II "for his outstanding contribution to strengthening of peace and concordance between peoples, restoration of historic and cultural heritage of Russia." At the beginning of the conversation with the President the Patriarch first of all congratulated Putin with the Fatherland Defender's Day. In return Putin stressed that "the church had always been with the army, at all times and presently was also providing assistance to it." The President wished Alexiy II good health, good moods and many years to live.

    Putin indicated that the Patriarch "had many admirers in Russia, who were attentively following his activity." The President stated that he wished "taking into account the elective office he occupied, to permit himself on behalf of all Russians to congratulate Alexiy II with his birthday and to wish him all the best."

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